In a recent conversation, The Rev. Dr. John C. Whatley III, Senior Pastor of Community Church of the Midlands in Seven Oaks Park at 200 Leisure Lane, shared some thoughts about Pope Francis. He spoke of the new Pope’s kindness, openness, and amazing ability to relate to real people. From this discussion we share Dr. Whatley’s thoughts about Pope Francis:
I have read several newspaper accounts as well as a number of magazine and journal articles in which the writers are extolling with irrepressible joy “the revolution that is taking place in the Catholic Church now that Pope Francis is changing Rome.” Revolution? We’ll see.
I myself have been quite moved by the obvious humility, openness, major focus and apparently progressive nature of Jorge Mario Bergoglio - the 285th successor to St. Peter as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics. In all four of the aforementioned areas, Francis represents a veritable sea of change when compared to his last two predecessors. For example, his:
Humility. I am impressed that the Pope chose, as his papal title, the name of one of the most unpretentious individuals in history: that of Francis of Assisi, who renounced incredible wealth in order to spend his life living with and ministering to those whom Jesus called “the least of these” - the marginalized, destitute, down-trodden individuals in society. And who can ignore the fact that Francis has eschewed the opulent, palatial residence in which previous popes have lived so sumptuously, choosing instead to reside in a humble guesthouse. Moreover, he has chosen sometimes to ride in a less than flamboyant Ford Focus rather than in the outrageously expensive armored Mercedes SUV that previously was used as a Pope-mobile.
Openness. Francis’s surprising openness with the media on a recent flight from Rio de Janeiro to Rome and his amazing willingness to answer questions for an unprecedented 80 minutes can be contrasted with that of his predecessor who responded only to questions carefully scripted by the Vatican’s chief spokesperson, Federico Lombardi.
Major focus. Whereas many previous popes often have inveighed mostly against people who appeared to be out of line with Catholic dogma, those who did not follow the Catholic Church’s teaching on sex, birth control and other similar issues, Francis seems to be focused, as his adopted title implies, on ministry to the poor rather than on scathing judgmentalism.
Progressive Nature. I also have been impressed with the fact that, during the past Lenten season, the pope washed the feet of two women in juvenile detention. As if that were not enough, it should be noted that one of them was a Muslim! By this unprecedented action, Francis broke with tradition that restricts the ritual of foot washing only to Catholic men - usually restricted even further to a few priests in the Vatican entourage.
Also, the pope has advocated “mercy” for Catholics who have divorced and remarried. Such persons generally are categorized as 2nd class citizens in the Catholic Church and are even forbidden to receive Communion unless they have been issued a Church annulment.
Of course, the one papal comment that has received the most publicity by the media is Francis’s statement regarding sexual orientation: “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person?” Certainly that is a more progressive attitude than any expressed by previous popes, but it does absolutely nothing to change Catholic Church doctrine. The Pope himself may have adopted a tone that is not judgmental, but the Catholic Church has not, and it isn’t likely to do so.
Although progressives in the Catholic Church have essentially been persona non grata in their own fellowship before and after the time of Pope John XXIII, it may be too early for them to celebrate as joyously as some have done. Much too early.
(Continued in: Thinking about Pope Francis - Part II)